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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

Shoes should not be designed to increase the risk of falling. Indeed, there is an industry-developed standard, published by the American Standards Institute, which requires a minimum of traction for the sole and heel. But this standard is a voluntary one and, anyhow, few consumers know about it. So when the shoe manufacturer places style and its carelessness above safety, shoe buyers are not exactly on alert.

Some consumers are now on alert because they have been injured by what they believe to be the design of their shoes. From Shenandoah, Iowa, Pearl Baker writes that on August 20, 1988 at a 50th anniversary party, she fell, broke her arm, her glasses and lacerated her left eye. She was rushed to the hospital emergency center for x-rays and treatment. Wearing her black patent leather Selby shoes for the first time, she touched one shoe with the other. They stuck and threw her as she was striding around the room.

“These patents seem so different, almost like they were made to stick like a velcro product. I have owned and worn many patent leather shoes, but never experienced this problem before.” She called her shoes ‘beautiful, but hazardous!”

Sixty-five year old Dorothy Mularz bought a pair of Joyce leather boots. “The first and second times I wore them I skidded in them.” The third time she went down full force. “At 65 I was very fortunate not to have broken my hip or some other bones. Terrified as I was to continue walking I tip toed down to the mall shoe repair. ‘No problem’ said the repairman, ‘it’s the plastic heels.’ “She added that “now that I have talked with my friends, I have found that so many of them have fallen in plastic heels.”

Eleanore Jackson of Connecticut purchased a pair of foreign-made shoes and “on the first wear these shoes gave out from under me. Result: I broke my left foot. I injured my shin-bone which now bears a lifetime scar. I injured my shoulder. Cost: $12,000 — so far.” At Massachusetts General Hospital, where she has been treated, people with similarly caused injuries shared their pain and sorrow.

In the past, the shoe manufacturers and designers have responded to such complaints in three ways. First, they say people fall all the time, usually with their shoes on, so don’t blame the shoes. Second, their shoes are blameless. Third, they meet the American Standards Institute specifications. Of course, the shoe companies and their allies essentially write their own specifications by dominating the Institute’s committees.

Anyone who has observed or used the stiletto heel over the years knows that ambulatory stability is not its priority. Podiatrists and orthopedic specialists have long bemoaned the foot and back problems that this grossly unnatural posture of peril produces. But these two professions cannot seem to marshall their cases and focus some pressures for change within the shoe design industry.

In the meantime, some liability suits in the courts may produce a little justice and a lot of information about how the decisions are made between style, safety, experience and consumer feedback. A few jury verdicts would focus the attention of these companies and firms on sensible shoe design and quality of construction for safe walking. Given the surging prices of shoes these days, does the customer deserve anything less?